Words by Michael J. Bultman

Guess who I am. It’s the day before the first day of junior year, and I’m ready to reinvent myself. I’ve been doing sit-ups all summer and am now ready to try out for the team. I’ve given away my torn jeans and Slayer t-shirts, grown tired of my old woe-is-me routine and am ready to start fresh, ready to try my new, different kind of life. Give up? I’m Noah and the Whale.

NATW’s new release, Last Night on Earth, is an album so completely different than anything we heard on their previous release, The First Days of Spring, that they’re barely recognizable; Radiohead’s agility lacking much of the grace. To be fair, the band did let us know in a few separate tracks on their last effort that “you know in a year, I’m gonna be happy”, so we should have seen this coming. Thusly, this summer, Noah and Co. stumbled upon a neat little synthesizer, a drum machine (a necessary addition after the departure of drummer Doug Fink from the band for medical school) and a stack of self-help tapes, then wrote this record.

The album gets under way with the up-tempo tune, “Life is Life”, layered with synths, neat guitar melodies and a quirky little drum track. Lead singer Charlie Fink – clad in his newly acquired varsity sweater – sets the fresh feel for this album chanting the mantra-like lyrics “your life is your life, gotta live like it’s your life”, assuring us he has turned over a new leaf since the melancholy First Days of Spring. The following track, “Tonight’s the Kind of Night”, has the very same “new beginnings” feel – and a similar drum machine beat – while it tells the story of a boy leaving a town, (where perhaps the she-devil who caused all the anguish on First Days dwells) sure that now he’s on his own on the open road “everything will change”. The tone has been set.

Mr. Fink’s suave vocal tracks, that still stick out as if he is narrating rather than playing a folk song, is most evident in next track – the album’s first single, “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” – where Fink seems to be recording the reading of a children’s storybook. While spelling out the track’s title, backed by a children’s choir, I wonder if perhaps the spirit of these youths is what helped Mr. Fink over the previous record’s heartbreak hangover and inspired him to write the new batch of electronically-infused pop-folk songs. Or perhaps, he was named captain of the football team.

“Wild Thing”, the B-side of “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”, is a display of the band’s talent to write slow, poetic folk-rock. Its sweetly synthesized introduction bridges the gap between Noah and the Whale of past albums and this fine ballad as Fink describes his “Wild Thing”, a mud-wrestling dreamer trapped in a town where everyone knows one another too well.

Throughout the final tracks, the synthesizer holds its ground, but Fink’s emotions creep back up on him. He reminisces in “The Line” about an old flame as he ponders “is this the line where I get up and walk out?”, returning once again to the sound and fantastic wordplay the group displayed in their previous two releases. Fink’s voice is built perfectly for these introspective verses (and if one morning he decides to take the other pill he may find himself drawing comparisons to the likes of Tom Waits and Nick Cave), but it does not blend as well as he might like with his newfound love of the pop-punk synth riff.

It’s too soon to know whether Last Night on Earth will be Noah and the Whale’s 1-week adolescent romance with synth-folk, or the first date on the road to a strong relationship with the genre. The pieces are in order for the band to complete their transition and make many more quality records down the line. Let us wait and see.

Noah and the Whale
“Last Night on Earth”
Mercury Records
© March 7th, 2011



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